A ‘Debate’ On The Wrong Station

Rick Hamada
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Wednesday - August 23, 2006

The recent announcement of a debate between Sen. Daniel Akaka and U.S. Rep. Ed Case is presented as an opportunity for voters to learn more about the candidates in this highly contested race. However, the word “debate” should be replaced with “talk story,” “chit-chat” or “shoot the breeze.”

A real debate allows for exchanges between the two candidates. The ability to directly challenge one’s opponent is the most valuable aspect of debate. The observer immediately learns of the participants’ knowledge of various issues, but also witnesses the candidates’ ability to perform under pressure. Spontaneity is good. Unscripted responses are good. Without direct interaction, we will be treated to an evening-long campaign message delivered under the guise of debate. I can get that from commercials.

The secondary issue of this much-anticipated “debate” is the venue. The Akaka camp wants the conversation aired on PBS rather than a local network affiliate. Huh? I love the reasoning behind this decision offered by Akaka campaign manager Andy Winer. He says in published reports, “Accepting the AARP (American Association of Retired People) event, which will be broadcast on television, meets the public’s desire for this kind of forum and does not give an unfair advantage to any single commercial entity.” I like Andy Winer. He is an attorney who is passionate about his candidate and he is a stalwart Democrat. We may not agree on issues, but I love his commitment. But to try to sell PBS as the best venue is a real big stretch.

Winer wants us to believe their No. 1 media concern when crafting Akaka campaign strategy is to ensure equal access and parity to the mainstream televisions stations. One would think one would want the biggest, widest and most-massive audience possible in order to generate maximum exposure for your guy or gal. KHON-TV, KHNL-News8, KITV-4 and KHMB-9 were in hot pursuit to broadcast this main event. I would have negotiated a deal where all would have the broadcast. CNN, FOX News Channel, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX will broadcast the same event live. Our four stations would have jumped at the chance.

Relegating the broadcast of the most anticipated “debate” in the most-watched local race to one of the least-watched channels is a statement. With all due respect to PBS (of which I am a fan), it simply does not have the view-ership to rival the other four stations. You know this. I know this. Andy Winer knows this.

So, why would you want your star player in right field when he should be the pitcher? The pitcher is front and center, usually the best player on the team. The right-fielder is usually the weakest player and you want him out of the way. It seems like the Akaka people want to eliminate one-on-one debate and minimize the number of people who see Sen. Akaka’s performance. The senator’s campaign may not agree with this assessment, but it sure looks that way to me.

Rep. Case is not without peril. If he becomes too aggressive with his posture or appears to be bullying or mocking Sen. Akaka, the voters will turn on him faster than Reuben Studdard reaching for a biscuit. Case must present himself as “senatorial” and rife with fresh ideas, defined expertise and with answers to that pesky anti-Hawaiian e-mail. If he can find a good balance between assertive and obnoxious, he should do very well.

Regardless of debate, format or venue, here is the bottom line. Akaka has the support of Sen. Dan Inouye. The value of that relationship was reinforced with a $300,000 contribution to a proAkaka organization. Akaka is the status-quo candidate. He will benefit from the union turnout, the transporting of elderly from nursing homes to polling precincts, and the images of Sen. Barrack Obama singing his endorsement praises. He will be very difficult to beat.

Nonetheless, it seems we just have to settle for what we have. You will have the chance to see Akaka and Case side-by-side. If you don’t get enough information from the “debate,” at least you will be able to measure them by height.

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